For two days last week, we had the opportunity to connect with “A United Kingdom” director and screenwriter Amma Asante (“Belle”) and actor and producer David Oyelowo.
“A United Kingdom” is set in 1947 and follows the real-life story of Seretse Khama (Oyelowo), the King of Botswana, who met Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a bright-eyed London office worker. Despite the fact that he’s African, and royalty, and she’s white and from a working-class London family, they were a perfect match. After a charming courtship he proposed marriage and she accepted, and then both the British and South African governments challenged their decision. History will show that the latter [South Africa] had recently introduced the unjust policy of apartheid and, subsequently, the evil government found the notion of a biracial couple ruling a neighboring country intolerable. South Africa threatened the British: either thwart the couple or be denied access to South African uranium and gold and face the risk of South Africa invading Botswana.
“A United Kingdom” is a well-crafted piece of cinema and, in many ways, a serious nod to the exceptional quality that is the hallmark of British cinema. It’s also an utterly entertaining and romantic film, and the best part is that it’s based on extraordinary true events that most people know nothing about, which is part of the larger tragedy.
“A United Kingdom” will be released in the U.S. Feb. 10, but here is a preview of what Oyelowo had to say about the work of his long-time friend, director-screenwriter Amma Asante.
It took Oyelowo more than six long years to get the project, based on the true story told by Susan Williams’ book “The Color Bar,” to the screen.
AmNews: David, you’ve worked with Ava DuVernay (“Selma”), Mira Nair (“Queen of Katwe”) and now, British born Amma Asante (“Belle”), all women of color. As a producer—again—what are your feelings, looking back at the last years?
Oyelowo: I have a huge sense of pride in the fact that we actually achieved it [producing “A United Kingdom”]. You know, it’s not lost on me. That feeling of pride, it’s not lost on me, the moment [that] we are in. I feel incredibly privileged to have been directed by Amma and Ava at a time where the disgraceful marginalization of women, let alone Black women, in terms of film is still prevalent.
AmNews: What struck you the hardest about discovering this story? As you mentioned, most people in the world don’t know anything about what happened, in 1947, to Seretse Khama who was sent to England for a formal education, with the sole purpose of returning to take his position as King of Botswana.
Oyelowo: I was struck by the images of [Seretse] Khama and Ruth [Williams] on the [“The Color Bar”] book cover. He was elegant. I saw this guy in a trench-coat and a 1940’s style hat and this woman by his side. They looked so happy.
AmNews: I feel that there is a need to learn more about our history, particularly in the coming Trump/Pence administration years, where bullying, racism, sexism and over all bad behavior is accepted and embraced as the “new normal.” Storytellers can have an impact positively. Is this a good time to release “A United Kingdom?”
Oyelowo: In my mind there is never a bad time for this story to be told, but you never know, from an alchemy point of view, what’s going to happen. Historically, for a film to feel even more resonance, I think that, for me, why this film is so timely is there is just a lot of very bad behavior that’s going on, publicly, and the reason why I say that, is again as a father, I am having to speak to my sons about how to actually behave, in relation, to people who are supposedly the height of what one should aspire to be like.
[On bad behavior in government] That’s a new thing, to have to literally have to explain. After the “Access Hollywood” [interview where Trump talks about women and groping their private parts] came out, I literally had to sit my three sons down and say “OK, that’s not OK.”
It’s beyond ashamed because I had to do it on the context of saying that doing that should not be synonymous with you being afforded the highest seat in the land. The standards of what is permissible behavior has shifted.
Next month, part two of the interview with producer/star David Oyelowo and a profile and Q&A with screenwriter/director, Amma Asante.
“A United Kingdom” opens Feb. 10.